London Korean Film Festival Review: Detective K – Secret of the Virtuous Woman (2011)

Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Woman (2011) Movie Image

“Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Woman” is a period set film with a different and distinctly modern feel, mixing action, mystery and humour to entertaining effect. Directed by Kim Seok Yoon (“Old Miss Diary”) and based on the popular novel by Kim Tak Hwan, the blockbuster film stars award winning actor Kim Myung Min in the title role, marking a change of pace after the more gruelling “Man of Vendetta” and terminal illness drama “Closer to Heaven”, with support and romantic interest from actress Han Ji Min (from the television series “Cain and Abel”) and comic relief from Oh Dal Su (“Foxy Festival”).

Kim plays the titular Detective K, the film opening with him being charged by King Jeonjo with solving a number of unexplained killings in the capital. Although K quickly closes in on the evidence, discovering that the murders were carried out with a long, thing needle of Chinese origin, he is mistaken for the culprit and thrown into jail. Joined by fellow prisoner Seo Pil (Oh Dal Soo), he is freed by the king and sent to Jeokseong to continue his investigations under the guise of carrying out an inquest into the apparent suicide of a virtuous widow. K soon picks up the trail, and finds himself embroiled in a nation threatening conspiracy that seems to revolve around the secretive female merchant Kaek Ju (Han Ji Min).

Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Woman (2011) Movie Image

Although “Detective K” may sound like slight fare, it’s actually a surprisingly complicated film, with a well thought out plot that works in variety of secret identities, deceptions and conspiracies, and it rapidly becomes he murder investigation is merely the tip of the iceberg. The film is tightly written, and it does seem that a good amount of thought went into the script, with an intriguing series of revelations that wisely aren’t just thrown together during the last act. At the same time, it also deals with some fairly weighty themes in well meaning fashion, being an essentially pro-Christianity film and upholding ideals of social justice and the mistreatment of common people by the ruling class. Fortunately, all of this combines quite neatly thanks to director Kim’s light touch, and the film never takes itself too seriously, with fun clearly having been top of the agenda. Things move along at a bouncy pace, and though the tone does tend to leap around between the film’s various genres, it’s held together by a lively sense of enthusiasm, even during the inevitable third act dive into seriousness.

A large part of the film’s success is down to Kim Myung Min, who again shows himself to be an exceptionally charismatic and versatile performer. Portraying K as somewhat of a rogue, though needless to say one with a heart of gold, he makes for a likeable protagonist who never quite seems to take the easy route despite his impressive intelligence. Much of the film’s humour comes from his bantering with Oh Dal Soo as his somewhat downtrodden though mouthy sidekick, and their dynamic is an engaging one that makes for plenty of laughs. Han Ji Min is also on good form, with her merchant being an ambiguous and alluring figure, who for the first two thirds of the film at least injects a considerable amount of sex appeal, with Kim packing in a heavy dose of cleavage shots.

Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Woman (2011) Movie Image

The film has a very modern feel despite its period setting, Kim directing with flair and style, and this fits the overall feel very nicely without ever over doing things or throwing in too much of the dreaded slow motion. There’s a good amount of action sprinkled throughout, with some decently choreographed martial arts and fisticuffs, chase scenes and even an odd sequence involving giant CGI dogs, all of which adds to the sense of boisterousness. The film was quite obviously bestowed with a high budget, and it certainly shows on screen, with some fine production values and a slick, glossy look and general air of quality.

As a result, “Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Woman” is a film which scores well pretty much across the board, and which is one of the better Korean blockbusters of late. Kim Myung Min as ever proves good value in the lead, obviously marking the film as a must-see for fans, and it’s one of the more successful outings to marry a period setting with a more modern sensibility, making for highly enjoyable viewing all-round.

Seok-yun Kim (director) / Lee Nam-Gyoo, Chun-Hyeong Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Myung-min Kim … K
Dal-su Oh … Kennel Man
Ji-min Han … Han Gaek-Joo / Lee Ah-Yeong
Jae-yong Lee … Minister Lim
Hyeon Woo … Mr. Bang
Ye Soo-Jeong … Lim Jwa-Soo’s Wife

Buy Detective K on DVD